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The Signs of a Prophet: The Prophetic Actions of Jesus.

This splendid book is an expanded version of the Shaffer lectures given at Yale Divinity School in 1995. It includes fresh insights which will intrigue specialists, yet it is so lucid that it can be commended with confidence to readers with minimal background knowledge. In her Preface Morna Hooker explains that the stimulus for the lectures was provided by the work of her late husband, David Stacey, on Prophetic Drama in the Old Testament (1993); his fine 1993 Peake Memorial lecture, "The Last Supper as Prophetic Drama', is included as an appendix.

The opening chapter takes as its starting-point prophetic actions in the Old Testament before turning to the actions of John the prophet in the Jordan valley. `Like Isaiah's nakedness or Jeremiah's pot, John's baptism is a dramatic representation of what will inevitably follow', the coming judgement of all God's people (p. 13).

At the heart of the second chapter entitled `No Sign shall be Given Them', lies the intriguing suggestion that in their reinterpretation of the sign of Jonah, Matthew and Luke have both hidden the original intention of Jesus: the sign referred to by Jesus as a sign `for this generation' was the sign of John, i.e. John's baptism. Morna Hooker explains why the most common interpretations of the sign of Jonah are unsatisfactory before reviving cautiously the explanation given by `various earlier commentators' -- B. W. Bacon (1902) and C. Moxon (1911) are the only two named. The obvious difficulties with this theory are tackled, and good reasons are given for taking it seriously. Evidence for the association of the story of Jonah with baptism in artistic representations of the second and third centuries is set out in a fascinating lengthy footnote on page III. I hope that in due course this theory will be defended more fully than was appropriate in this book, for it is at least as plausible as any other explanation of the enigmatic words of Jesus.

The many other signs of Jesus the prophet are discussed succinctly in the third chapter. The miracles are prophetic dramas which point beyond themselves: they are signs as well as wonders. The choice of twelve disciples, the renaming of Simon, and the action of Jesus in eating with tax collectors and sinners are all taken as prophetic signs or dramas. The entry of Jesus into Jerusalem and the `cleansing' of the Temple are discussed in some detail, as are the actions of Jesus at the Last Supper.

The final chapter considers the ways in which the individual evangelists have interpreted the prophetic actions of Jesus. Not surprisingly, more attention is given to the `signs' of the Fourth Gospel than to the emphases of the other evangelists.

This carefully crafted book does not claim to be a contribution to the current renewed quest for the historical Jesus, but it makes important points which have been overlooked by several scholars who have been questing recently at much greater length. Those who have given priority to the sayings of Jesus and have portrayed him as a sage, or even as a (Jewish) Cynic have failed to give adequate attention to the prominence and importance of his prophetic actions. And those who have focused on the `cleansing' of the Temple as the most significant prophetic action of Jesus have tended to ignore the many other prophetic signs in the gospels.

Numerous questions raised in the course of this short book cry out for elaboration. One in particular is touched on in several places, but not discussed: if Jesus intended many of his actions to be prophetic signs, were some of them intended to be understood as the actions of a messianic prophet?
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Author:Stanton, Graham N.
Publication:The Journal of Theological Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 1998
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